Monday, 3 March 2014

Lichfield Icon Exhibition

My first thought was that an exhibition of icons  - even in a Cathedral - is, well, not quite right.  To understand and really appreciate an icon is a far more intimate activity than viewing other forms of art.  Looking briefly at an icon in a box cannot possibly enable anyone to read the image at more than at a superficial level.  An icon, after all is a call to prayer.  However, despite the inevitable limitations the opportunity to see so many absolutely beautiful icons in one place was a special and memorable experience.  Ian was also on hand to show visitors how an icon is written - as well as giving talks and workshops (busy man!). We spent two days going back and forth to the Cathedral and it was good to see people also paying return visits.

We were very touched by the fact that the Sacred Heart icon was the first 'exhibit' as you came in.  Ian's notes made the point that it was a 'fitting entry' point into the exhibition  as it 'draws upon western, Roman Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and re-visits it in the light of ancient eastern , Orthodox wisdom. It shows the possibilities for creativity from within the Tradition which is rooted in the united era of the Church of the first millennium'.  His notes guided the viewers to the central theme of the icon ' Love at the Heart of All things'. 

I must confess to listening to what people were saying as they looked at the icon, and I was delighted that people seem to get it : one said to his friend : ' Ah, so that is what the Sacred Heart thing is all about!'

The icons were displayed around the Cathedral.  To the right of the Sacred Heart was a stunning display of 'Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls' - Ian's now famous icon painted on a dividing wall in Bethlehem.

Two other  icons were also in glass cases:  The icon of the Trinity  written for Keble College Oxford  and Our Lady the Patron of Europe. 

click on images to enlarge

The largest icon was a wonderful Triptych of Christ of the Powers with the Mother of God and the Archangel Michael. I particularly like this icon because it is expressly 'cosmic' - showing Christ as drawing all things to himself - which is also central  the theme of the Sacred Heart icon.

A deisis  of smaller icons were displayed in the chapter house.  This gave people the opportunity to look closely at a wide variety of icons : The Extreme Humility; St Luke the Evangelist; St Michael the Archangel: Blessed Charles de Foucauld; St Ambrose, Father of Church Song; St Michael the Archangel, prince of the heavenly host, defender of the Church and of Christians especially in times of trial and suffering; the All Seeing Theotokos; the Holy Face; St John the Foreunner; St Gabriel the Archangel; St George; St John Vianney; Elijah; 2 Festal Icons; and Christ Pantocrator.

Of course they were all stunning pieces of work and show what a remarkable and talented iconographer Ian is - the range quite takes your breath away.  As one person was heard to say - 'awesome' .  Absolutely, each one fills you with awe and wonder.

From the point of view of the Sacred Heart two icons in particular were of special interest to me.  The first was of St John Vianney- who is the patron Saint of parish priests. And the other was Blessed Charles de Foucauld - who, as Ian notes was a martyr who died at the hands of Taureg Arabs and who had a great love for Muslims.

St John Vianney had a deep love of the Sacred Heart.  Blessed John XXIII, for example,  in his encyclical on St. John Vianney in 1959, said this:

Was not the mind of John Mary Vianney soaring to reach the counsels of ....divine charity when he wrote this lofty sentence: "Is the priesthood love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus?"

As I reflected on the icon of St John Vianney and thought about the priesthood today I recalled that for him the priesthood was the love of the heart of Jesus. Sadly, too few priests nowadays would describe the priesthood in this way.  An icon of Saint John Vianney should encourage us to pray for our priests in such troubled times. More than ever they need to bring the Good News to a world in desperate need of  good news.

The icon of Blessed Charles de Foucault contains, of course, an image of the Sacred Heart for  he founded the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Significantly, in the fresco of the Sacred Heart in Paray le Monial ( see HERE ,   Blessed Charles is represented as someone who promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart.  Reflecting on his icon two thoughts came to mind. The first is his famous Prayer of Abandonment ( here)  in which he prayed:

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

The second comment that came to mind was his observation that :

Our hearts, like that of the Church, like that of Jesus, must embrace all humanity.

Above all icons can help us to see Christ in all things, and can help us to remember that we are called to be icons of Christ in the world- and then our hearts, like Jesus's heart, can truly embrace all humanity. Icons can help us understand the love that is at the heart of all things. So, thank you Ian, God bless you and your important work and thank you Lichfield Cathedral!